For local filmmaker Patrick Roddy, there was nowhere to go but up.
By Mari Wadsworth
MARCH 16, 1998: FIVE YEARS AGO, Patrick Roddy was a frustrated customer-service supervisor at Arizona Mail Order (AMO), punching the clock and dreaming of making his first full-length feature film. He was living paycheck to paycheck and sharing a one-bedroom house across the street from El Con Mall with two other people. Then his luck changed: He got fired.
"It was Halloween, 1994," he recalls. He'd worked at AMO for two years, and been promoted twice. "The official reason (for my termination) was 'lack of responsiveness to a question.'
Instead, Roddy conducts this phone interview from his home office in a 2,000-square-foot studio in downtown Los Angeles. He'll graduate this June with a master's degree from the UCLA film school's exclusive producer's program, and he's already launched his own production company, Archimage Studios.
How he got from AMO to CEO is, well, a classic Hollywood success story.
"Starting in November (1994), I decided to take advantage of being unemployed. I wanted to make a low-budget feature, so I started writing a script," he says.
Roddy had been looking for a story that was public domain (not copyrighted) for quite some time, and found one in an anthology of horror novellas.
The wheels were set in motion: Writing on a daily basis, he finished the script in a month. "In December, I realized I was going to finish," he remembers. "A year previously, El Mariachi and Clerks had come out, and were being well received. It was the whole media buzz that El Mariachi (Robert Rodriguez' breakthrough feature, later refilmed as the big-budget Desperado) was made for $7,000. I did the math and figured I could do a film--that I could buy the film stock--for $10,000."
He contacted a couple of close friends from his undergraduate days in Montana State University's media arts program, wrote a business plan, and started looking for private investors.
Initially, Roddy and co-producer Robert Wilder (one of the aforementioned friends) came up with $15,000 for a low-budget horror movie called Parasite. (See black box below for details.) Roddy scraped together his $5,000 by selling his car and borrowing against credit cards. Wilder, just out of the military, relocated to Tucson for the duration of the project. That was in January 1995.
A series of fortuitous circumstances--a professional casting consultant, Cathy Conklin, offered her services for free; a location was secured at the then-vacant Hacienda del Sol Resort for a modest $1,500; and the entire cast of actors and technicians who agreed to work on deferred salary--resulted in a quick, relatively painless 15-day shoot in late May 1995. "We'd leave the house at 5:30 a.m. to get to work at 7 a.m., and not get home until after 7 p.m.," Roddy remembers. "We planned for an 18-day shoot, with only Sundays off. But we dropped some scenes, and made some other changes, and finished ahead of schedule."
By June of that year, broke after seven months of collecting unemployment checks and maxing out credit cards, Roddy, Wilder and director Andy Froemke had a reel of unedited film.
"Andy, Robert and I are very good friends, but this project affected our friendship at some point. There was a big feeling of relief when it was all shot. Andy went home to Minnesota. It was a very difficult experience, and not necessarily an enjoyable one. That three weeks was frustrating for all of us."
A rented flatbed editing table took up residence in Roddy's living room, and stayed there all through the summer, with Wilder and Roddy taking turns editing for a rough cut. Roddy was again working full-time in customer service at that point, to pay the bills.
"We'd tapped the money we raised--nearly $40,000. We used the flatbed until September, then I had to give it back because we couldn't pay for it anymore," Roddy says.
But, by the skin of their teeth, they achieved their goal. Parasite was accepted to the Independent Feature Film Market in New York in late September 1995, and the pair borrowed another $800 to fly to the Big Apple to show a 15-minute synopsis of the project, as a work in progress.
"We hoped we could generate enough excitement in someone, some studio, to give us money to finish the film. We quickly realized when we got there that wasn't going to happen." Though the trailer screened to a full house, with people standing in the aisles, Roddy says the experience was a big disappointment. A couple of studio representatives optimistically passed along their cards and asked to see the finished product, but it took a man Roddy calls "the used-car salesman of the indie film business" to make him see the light.
"He asked us how much money we wanted to finish the project, and when we told him, he said our sum was ridiculous--he couldn't help us. Reasonable for us would've been $30,000, max. We were hoping for $250,000. We just wanted to sell off the distribution rights and get back enough money to pay our distributors, and the cast and crew.
"It was frustrating and depressing. It was apparent that we didn't have any more money coming in, and there was no way we were going to get this movie distributed until it was completely finished."
Roddy applied to UCLA in the fall of 1995. "After the film market, I realized just making a movie wasn't going to be enough for me to make it, as a career," he recalls. "I needed to meet people, learn more about the business."
After another tumultuous year of hope and heartbreak--a string of short-lived jobs, long hours alone in a dark corner of Terrazas Video on Oracle Road, where owner Carlos Terrazas generously allowed Roddy to continue editing Parasite for discounted rates--Roddy got accepted to UCLA, where he started in September 1996. In October, he returned to Tucson to file for personal bankruptcy.
It seemed like the end; but in true Hollywood fashion, it was only the beginning.
IN HIS FIRST quarter of film school, Roddy's final exam for a class called Ideas to Movies required that he make a pitch to a panel of "industry professionals." His two-minute pitch--an original idea for a sci-fi murder mystery with the intentionally ironic title Meet John Doe--caught the attention of the panel, consisting of his professor, an agent, and two creative executive producers.
A couple of months later, Roddy got a call "out of the blue" at work, in low-budget mogul Roger Corman's office. "This professor told me the agent who'd heard my pitch that night was very interested, and they were prepared to approach Warner Bros. with it. They called to get my approval and get me on board."
A few days later, Warner Bros. officials said they'd buy it.
Then the fanfare began: The Hollywood Reporter and Variety magazine reported Roddy would receive "in the mid six-figures" for his idea, a sum that would later be translated to "half a million dollars" when an L.A.-based CBS News affiliate broadcast a seven-minute segment on the 30-year-old filmmaker, as part of its "Special Assignment" series. The news segment, titled The Player, opens with actress Jennifer Tilly looking directly into the camera and asking, "Who's Patrick Roddy?"
After multiple airings between May and December 1997 (the reporter won a Golden Mic award for the segment), Roddy's name became a familiar buzzword in industry circles. "It created its own myth," the young and already cynical filmmaker recalls. "It was ridiculous."
But it worked. With the first installment from Warner Bros., Roddy was able to finish Parasite, the film that got him into film school in the first place. And with his new connections at Corman's Concord-New Horizons company, he's shopped the finished product to a home video distributor, Englewood Entertainment, which will represent the film this summer at a Las Vegas trade show. Parasite also traveled to the Cannes Film Market last year, where a deal for the Russian video/television rights fell through. Roddy hopes to recapture that market, and others, in the American Film Market next month in Santa Monica, California.
The new project, still without a working title, is still being written by a studio-hired screenwriter. One of the producers is Deborah Hill, who wrote and produced John Carpenter's Halloween. Roddy couldn't be more thrilled. "I'm a huge John Carpenter fan," Roddy gushes. "He was my first favorite director. And Hill is probably the first person I ever recognized as a producer. I've been interested in her work since I was a kid."
In the beginning, the unnamed, unwritten project purportedly raised an eyebrow on director Renny Harlin (Geena Davis' husband, who directed Die Hard 2 and Long Kiss Goodnight), but there's been no further discussion or offers made.
"Essentially, I sold my idea for $130,000 and associate producer credit," Roddy explains, saying he has no idea what will come of it, or even if the movie will actually get made. He's received only $65,000 so far--just enough to finish Parasite and pay off his creditors.
AFTER THE WARNER Bros. deal last May, Roddy and Parasite director Froemke met in Tucson, where Terrazas let them finish the project on good faith. They did a fine cut in one week, and Terrazas mastered it there in his studio, on video.
"I'm grateful to everyone who worked on the film, but there are three essential people: Debbie Cross, the manager at AMO who fired me; my former landlady in Tucson, Jeanne Taylor; and Carlos Terrazas, at Terrazas Video, who was instrumental throughout the editing phase. If it wasn't for those three, Parasite never would've been made."
He also expresses his gratitude and amazement for Parasite's cast and crew, adding that he's optimistic they'll all get paid.
Asked of his plans upon graduation this June, Roddy says, "I still hate L.A. It's an interesting place to live...but I can't wait to move back to Tucson."
"I'm really excited about Archimage," he says of his fledgling film and production company. He's currently working with five finished films, one of them Froemke's regional Emmy-nominated Shadow Casting, a 1992 documentary on the making of A River Runs Through It. (Roddy was a production assistant on the latter, while still a student at MSU.)
Roddy plans to return to Tucson in November, where he'll marry his longtime girlfriend, whom he met way back when at AMO. He's working on a local premiere screening for Parasite as an auspicious beginning to a Tucson-based Archimage Studios, a film and production company, like his mentor Roger Corman's, for low-budget feature films.
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